It was the spring before 9/11. My cousin was graduating from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I was in the seventh grade.
I joined my grandparents for the most amazing trip that would touch me for the rest of my life.
We took a quick detour and visited the Big Apple. It was my first time in New York City and I fell in love.
We watched Reba McEntire in her Broadway debut as Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun.” We went on a drizzly ferry ride and saw the Twin Towers, not knowing of the terror that would take place in that very spot months later.
Eventually we made our way to Annapolis. Like New York, it was something foreign. I was in awe as I looked upon the harbor, so many ships. It was a beautiful place, something out of a movie.
I remember wishing I was older, swooning over the officers in their crisp white uniforms. None of whom paid any attention to the shy 12-year-old girl.
It was a magical week, one that would teach me what it meant to be truly, deeply patriotic. Proud to be an American.
A feeling that would unify our country in just a few short months.
I felt it with every ounce of my being as I watched the many traditions leading up to graduation. 13 years later, I still remember the excitement I felt as I saw President Bush speak at the commencement ceremony. I watched with anticipation as his motorcade arrived behind the stage. I was mesmerized as the Blue Angels flew overhead.
It was the most spectacular week.
Months later, after 9/11, I thought about that graduation. Wondering how many of the men and women who crossed that stage would give the ultimate sacrifice. How many of them would be sent off to war, never to return home?
It was a hard concept to grasp for a 12-year-old girl.
I thought about the families who sat next to me. How many of them were at home filled with worry?
I can’t even begin to fathom what that must be like.
My words seem so small in comparison to their strength and courage.
Everything we have, everything we do, is made possible by the men and women who serve our country.
I am so grateful for their service and sacrifice.
I know I’m a day late, but I couldn’t pass this holiday without remembering those men and women in the crisp white uniforms…who touched the 12-year-old girl with their bravery.
Happy Memorial Day!